The Best Lies Ahead

Coach VanDerveer assesses her young team's uneven season.

May/June 2015

Reading time min

The Best Lies Ahead

Photo: Bob Drebin/

It's commonplace to talk about how high the bar is set at Stanford. But the women's basketball team gave the conversation new context when it advanced to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 in a season otherwise marked by a rare downturn in overall performance.

Coach Tara VanDerveer understood the dilemma posed by past achievements, which she summarized as "championship, championship, championship." This was the year the Cardinal failed to win the conference's regular-season title after having done so 14 years in a row. But then came the special satisfaction of stealing the Pac-12 tournament, winning the event for the 11th time. "It was unexpected," noted VanDerveer. "Not by us necessarily, but by everybody else. Everybody else had counted us out—you know, 'Stanford's run is over.' Well, our team didn't get that memo."

VanDerveer's squad got to the Sweet 16 before sustaining an 81-60 loss to national powerhouse Notre Dame. That produced a final record of 26-10, a finish VanDerveer had projected as "a good season by most standards," even though it was the first time Stanford had lost more than eight games since 2001. VanDerveer also sensed after the Pac-12 tourney that her team's season-long inconsistency might be too much to overcome, regardless of its resolve.

Tara VanDerveer stands on the court with a microphone in hand. She is wearing a blue-striped button down shirt.Photo: Bob Drebin /

"We'll want to go to the Sweet 16, or the Elite Eight, or the Final Four," she said, "but I think that you've got to be realistic with each team." Noting that past Stanford Final Four teams were bulwarked by such dominant players as Candice Wiggins, Jayne Appel and Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, she added, "These are young players who are going to improve. And they're going to have that kind of success, but it's in front of them."

Despite significant departures—especially all-conference senior guard Amber Orrange—the roster for next season is deep in still-maturing players who have also accumulated substantial experience. They include sharpshooting guard Lili Thompson and forward Erica McCall, who will be juniors, and forward Kaylee Johnson, a rebounding sensation named to the conference all-freshman team.

Plus, there's solidarity. "Some teams struggle with people they don't play and with attitudes," said VanDerveer. "But the pictures of our bench, they're so focused and so into it and so supportive of each other. Which is a great thing."

You May Also Like

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305.